The Father SEES us in Jesus

John 6:44-51

“Jesus said to the crowds: “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draw him, and I will raise him on the last day. It is written in the prophets:

They shall all be taught by God.

Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the desert, but they died; this is the bread that comes down from heaven so that one may eat it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my Flesh for the life of the world.”

We come to Jesus to listen to the Father, who loves us and cherishes us. He has seen the Father; the Father sees us through His sacrifice.

We can bury ourselves in and join His holy sacrifice by receiving His Word and Sacrament (body and blood) as often as we can. Jesus welcomes us with open arms (look at the Cross, on which He says in His dying breath: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”).  He chooses to live in us, broken vessels, so that we may become whole. Let us live together in communion with the Father and the Son, through the Holy Spirit. Amen.

A Chair of Service

See readings on USCCB

Today in the Catholic Church we celebrate a chair. You heard that right. It is the chair of authority that is also the Chair of service. They go together — authority and service. We may also know it as Servant Leadership.

Let’s begin with the authority aspect of the chair. Jesus Himself said to Peter, “I will give you the keys to the Kingdom of heaven. Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Mt 16:19). We also see an example of keys being given to the steward by the king in the prophet Isaiah: “…he shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to the house of Judah. And I will place on his shoulder the key of the house of David. He shall open, and none shall shut; and he shall shut, and none shall open. And I will fasten him like a peg in a secure place, and he will become a throne of honor to his father’s house (Is 22:21b-23).

He will become a throne of honor! It is through this imagery in Isaiah that we can see how the authority Jesus is giving Peter in the Gospel is related to a chair. The meaning is security. One can sit and be safe. This is the place from which eternal Truth, the truth relating to God (and therefore that which truly matters), comes. It is solid. It is binding. This authority has also come with a promise: evil shall not ever overcome it.

Even more important than authority is the service aspect of the Chair. St. Peter tells us in his epistle that he is a presbyter among presbyters. He is a servant of the servants of God. Jesus gave another command to His apostles in the Gospel of Matthew: “But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and that they exercise great authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister; And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant” (Mt 20:25-27). Peter echoes the command of Jesus, saying, “Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock” (1 Pt 5:3).

This applies to anyone in leadership, whether a churchman, a political representative, a parent, a teacher. Something to remember for all leaders: You lead for the sake of those underneath you, not for your sake; you lead for their good, not yours.

This is why we celebrate the Chair of Peter. It is to remind us that everything we have comes from the King, the ultimate Servant, who died for us that we might live.  The authority of this chair unites us in Him.

Wednesday Audience of Pope Francis: Jesus is close to us in our weakness.

It is such a beautiful thing to contemplate: that God is closest to us in our weakness…in our sinfulness.  I feel like a broken record but Romans 5:8 has been so important to me in the last three years of my Christian journey: “but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Pope Francis hits it home with his Wednesday Audience.  Read it all.

Some gems:

“Jesus’ first public act is therefore participation in a choral prayer of the people, a prayer of the people who went to be baptised, a penitential prayer, in which everyone recognises him- or herself as a sinner…We never pray alone, we always pray with Jesus. He does not stay on the opposite side of the river – “I am righteous, you are sinners” – to mark His difference and distance from the disobedient people, but rather He immerses His feet in the same purifying waters. He acts as if He were a sinner.”

Jesus’ baptism was His first public death-to-self.  He leads us to the Father in every action, even Baptism.

“This is the unique greatness of Jesus’ prayer: the Holy Spirit takes possession of His person and the voice of the Father attests that He is the beloved, the Son in whom He fully reflects Himself.”

In the same way, we who are in Christ through Baptism share in His sonship.  We, too, are the beloved of the Father!

“Jesus did not descend into the waters of the Jordan for Himself, but for all of us. It was the entire people of God who went to the Jordan to pray, to ask for forgiveness, to receive that baptism of penance…Jesus gave us His own prayer, which is His loving dialogue with the Father. He gave it to us like a seed of the Trinity, which He wants to take root in our hearts. Let us welcome him! Let us welcome this gift, the gift of prayer. Always with Him. And we will not err.”

 

Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to hear! Amen.

 

Be Submissive: Could this be the Final Solution to all our ills? (Part I)

I confess to a purposefully provocative title. I believe that the first reading for today’s Mass, Eph 5:21-33, is the most misunderstood passage in Sacred Scripture. It is the passage that wives love to hate, and that husbands love (because they don’t hear much past the first two sentences). I have even teased priest-friends about how I can perceive fear in their eyes when preaching on it. This post will consist of four parts. Today I will cover the first sentence…yes only the first sentence, because it is important to be clear about the term: be subject to.

As teachers of the faith, when things are difficult we either seek to put on a positive spin, or we even gloss over the difficulty and hope no one will notice. This morning when discerning whether to write about this, I asked the Lord if I should take the time to attend Mass. I usually go on Tuesdays anyway, but I wanted to make sure this was part of God’s plan for me today.

“Listen to the priest with an open heart,” the Lord answered.

It was a good thing that this answer was so specific, because wouldn’t you know, from 7:00 a.m. to 8:15 a.m., as I was driving my kids to school, I was tempted multiple times NOT to go. But I remembered, “Listen to the priest with an open heart.” One must obey. In that aforementioned time period, the Lord helped me make some connections in my mind between the Sunday Gospel and today’s readings. These connections were confirmed by the homily I heard!

I was very grateful Jesus for speaking His Word to me in my heart, and through the priest at Mass. This is the way God speaks to all of us. We can perceive His truth in our hearts through discernment, and in union with others. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” (Mt 18:20). I felt like God was giving me permission to pursue this endeavor of writing on the most misunderstood passage in Scripture! In my opinion, it is also one of the most important.

On Sunday Jesus spoke of the Divine Law of love. First, love God. Second, love your neighbor as yourself. In chapter five of Ephesians St. Paul gives us some details on just how to do this. What kinds of things do we actually do to live the divine law of love?

“Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21). To “be subject to” (hypotassō, Gk) means all of the following things, biblically: to yield to one’s admonition or advice; to subject one’s self, obey, and; to arrange under, to subordinate. Notice that each definition implies a person’s own willingness for the action; it is not forced. This word is the same one used in Luke, after Jesus was found by His parents in the temple. “And he went down with them and came to Nazareth, and was obedient to [hypotassō, Gk] them…” (Lk 2:51a). Jesus subjected himself to the authority of Mary and Joseph, with a willing heart. The next phrase “to one another” means that the subjection is a reciprocal decision. Right from the first line we see that any thoughts of power over the other, or even “balance of power,” are mutually exclusive to the reciprocal subordinating of self to another. Finally, “out of reverence for Christ” implies that the mutual subjection is done for the sake of something higher: reverence for God. Love of God is first in the Divine Law of love. It is therefore a necessary first principle of human love, and most especially, marital love, which I will write about in Part II.

In the practical, real-life sense this one sentence is exactly what Pope Francis preached about during the Sunday Angelus: “And love for neighbour, which is also called fraternal charity, consists in closeness, listening, sharing, caring for others. And so often we neglect to listen to others because it is boring or because it takes up our time, or [we neglect] to accompany them, to support them in their suffering, in their trials…” I believe that to listen to someone is the beginning of loving others; it is the first gift of self — the first subordination. When the Pope speaks of sharing he is talking about mutual reverence — a decision by each participant in the relationship to “subject one’s self” to the other.  This choice, made in the will, is the beginning of love.

The Next Installment — Mutual Subjection: Sanctification in Marriage (Part II).

Pope Francis: Voice of Love

The idea that Pope Francis is the voice of love in our time has grown on me the past few years. I think this is an important realization. I confess that this Pope was very confusing to me at first. When he came to be the leader of the Catholic Church, I was burying myself (in my master’s program) in the teachings of Vatican II and previous popes, especially John Paul II and Benedict. It was at that time that I asked the Lord to help me to see things from His point of view. Crying out in faith, I knew in my heart that there was something else for me to learn from this new Pope. I asked the Lord to help me learn from Pope Francis the things that He wanted me to know. I know today that the Lord wants to teach me about His love for all people.Pope_Francis_venerates_the_cross_on_Good_Friday_2015_Credit_LOsservatore_Romano_CNA.jpg

We learn from Jesus that the disposition of our hearts matters a great deal. As I study the Gospels, I imagine Jesus saying to us, “See Me for who I am. I am LOVE.”

Can we accept this? Can we accept His love?

Let’s first look at what Jesus does in His ministry. He seeks out sinners. He eats with them. He heals them. He says, “Follow me.” It was clear throughout Jesus’ ministry that He was open and welcoming to all. There was no illness, no sinfulness, and no disposition of heart that He cast away from Himself. This is the Jesus I am coming to know. This is also the Pope I am coming to know. He is the Pastor who calls us to faith, to live in hope, and to live in love. He will cast away no one. The question is, what is my disposition toward him?

Here are some of the dispositions of heart that we see in the Gospels:

“And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him” (Mark 3:2).
“The Pharisees came and began to argue with him, seeking from him a sign from heaven to test him” (Mark 8:11).
“And Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” (Mark 10:2).

All of this brings me to the news of this week about Pope Francis. The first headline I read was “Pope Francis has become the first pontiff to endorse same-sex civil unions.

If I were to read this predisposed to accuse and to test, I might be thinking, “Here we go again!” Then I might proceed to inform myself further in order to criticize. Here are some examples:

From Crisis Magazine (source):
“Francis’s comments are a kind of diabolical inversion of Humanae Vitae.”
“At some level, it doesn’t matter. Whether the Pope is consciously or accidentally dissenting from the Church, he is dissenting from the Church. There’s no question about that.”

From Cardinal Burke (source):
“It is a source of deepest sadness and pressing pastoral concern that the private opinions regarding civil unions attributed to Pope Francis and reported with so much emphasis by the press do not correspond to the constant teaching of the Church.”

The headline from a Carl Olson article (source):
“The deeply flawed opportunism of Pope Francis”

Msgr. Charles Pope (source):
“Many Catholics are once again grieved that the Holy Father, Pope Francis, has chosen to indiscreetly express his personal views on a critical moral issue of our day.”

I point these out because I question the disposition of heart towards the Holy Father from these sources. Is their disposition one of seeking understanding? These are just a few articles, of many, from Catholic sources that I formerly respected. Today I believe that they lead me away from the Church.

We are in a very confusing time. Who am I to trust for news and analysis in these times?

I will repeat the question in the light of the words of Peter in the Gospel of John, after Jesus’ seemingly scandalous discourse about eating His flesh and drinking His blood, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

I choose to go to His Vicar.  I wonder where faith is if one cannot trust that the Lord is trying to teach us something through His leader on earth. And I wonder if it is possible to understand this teaching if my disposition to the words of the Holy Father are an assumption of inversion or dissent, private opinion or opportunism. Are they seeking to find fault, or is God speaking through them?

Does God speak to everyone in their hearts? Absolutely.

God speaks, but sometimes we do not hear Him, because we cut ourselves off from His word with our hardness of heart. I am often faced with my own personal hardness of heart, the kind that will not even ask the right questions. Perhaps this is a reason God inspired Luke to give Jesus some last words that we do not hear in the other Gospels: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

None of us knows what we are doing, which is why we need a Savior. None of us is well, but many of us think we are. We cling to the law that is outside of ourselves, but if we do this, it can harden our hearts. Jesus fulfills the law with Life and Love. In my heart I see Him saying to the person in front of Him (to me and you), “I love you first and foremost. Whatever you have done — I can and will forgive. Whatever your burdens are — I can and will carry them. Whatever ails you — I can and will heal.”

And then He says, “You just need to let me.”

I believe the Holy Father is teaching us to look at others like this. I don’t believe for a minute that Pope Francis is leading us astray. Why? Because I have listened to him. I have asked God to give me a heart that seeks to understand, and through the Holy Father’s words I am reminded of Jesus’ teachings in the Gospels. How many of us know that the Pope teaches twice a week in the Angelus on Sunday and in the Wednesday audience? How many of us have heard his teaching on prayer with the Psalms the last two weeks, and his exposition on the social teaching of the Church in the previous months? How many of us heard all of his homilies throughout the Covid-crisis lockdown? How many of us have witnessed that he is truly a man of prayer?

Do I first seek to listen and hear, or do I first seek to find fault? That is a question we all must ask ourselves.

The Pope is a follower of Christ, and is an example of one who first seeks to love.

I would be remiss if I didn’t provide examples of this. I urge everyone to first pray for an open heart — one that seeks to understand the Holy Father’s voice of Love. Equip yourselves with the truth from his mouth, not from others’ perceptions of him. The evidence is clear.

Wednesday Audience Transcripts: http://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/audiences/2020.index.html#audiences

Wednesday Audience Video (translation into English): https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope-francis/papal-audience.html

Pope Homilies Transcripts: https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope-francis/papal-audience.html

Pope Homilies Video (translation into English): https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxIsefyl9g9A5SGWA4FvGIA

Other articles by authors who seek to understand first:
Dr. Pia de Solenni
Dr. Dawn Eden Goldstein and Dr. Robert Fastiggi
Dr. Pedro Gabriel
Fr. Matthew Schneider

Best yet: Eve Tushnet

Living Sacramentally.

I am back to readings reflections. In the first reading yesterday we hear from St. Paul, who is speaking about the “collection for the saints,” which is the collection for the suffering Church in Jerusalem. This is his reminder to the churches that we are part of a greater Church, the Church of Jesus Christ. We are His body, and as such, we are called to nourish every part of it. Everything we have and everything we are comes from the Lord. It is fitting to give back to Him in gratitude.

St. Paul is adept at using old proverbs to teach the lesson of generosity: “…whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor 9:6b; cf. Prov 22:9). Jesus, of course, is the original teacher of this lesson, (whether as the Word who has spoken from eternity or the Incarnate Word who dwells among us!) St. Paul speaks of giving according to the heart, and out of the love that we have for one another.

What (or Who) is the Source of this love?

It is the unending love by which all creation exists, and only one part of Creation is capable of returning this love in gratitude — man. The love of God freely flows into the hearts of His people for the purpose of freely flowing forward into life and abundance. For Jesus said, “I came that you may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). St. Paul is reminding the Corinthians, and us, that all we have is from God in the first place! There is nothing…nothing…that is good, true, and beautiful…that is not foreseen or given by the Father. Paul quotes Psalm 112 to make this point: “He has distributed freely, he has given to the poor; his righteousness endures forever” (Ps 112:9). He further makes the point and tells us of the necessary response of gratitude: “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God” (2 Cor 9:13). Charity, ultimately, is giving back the gifts we have already been given. It is by grace that these gifts multiply.

The idea of “many thanksgivings” should cause us to think of the Sacraments, and in particular, the Eucharist. As we receive the Sacraments we receive the life of God — His grace — in abundance, and we continue to grow in grace upon grace. “For from His fullness we have all received, grace upon grace” (Jn 1:16).

I once asked a young person in my life, “Why do you think I go to Mass?”

“Because you have to; it is a rule that you choose to follow,” he said.

“Oh no,” I said. “It is because I want to. What we are doing when we go to Mass is giving of ourselves, our life, our time that has been given to us, back to the Lord, and He, in turn, gives us Himself in His Word and in His holy food. This food sustains me. It gives me life!”

Grace upon grace. That is what it is all about. A gift of the heart — given from the heart and received in the heart.

God continues to give Himself through the Sacraments (but not exclusively so), so that we can live in the freedom to truly love. When Jesus gave us the Great Commission to unleash the Gospel (cf. Mt 28:19), He called us to do the same. We are called to give of ourselves, sacramentally, to others. We are to be a visible sign of an invisible reality: Christ living within us. There are the actual Sacraments of the Church, through which God gives us life and love, and it is by this life and love that we, too, give others life and love. Our sacramental giving and receiving with Jesus is His means of sharing His life and love with the whole world, resulting in joy-filled gratitude!

This is the Sacramental worldview that we so need today. The Good News is that God has planted Himself into the hearts of His people, by our creation. We are made in His image and likeness, which means that His goodness is within us. If this were not true, then no one would ever turn back to Him. God is asking each one of us to share His love with others, that by our example, we can be a sacrament to others — a sign of His eternal love for the entire world.

He tell us this through the prophet Isaiah: “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Is 55:10-11).

See this adorable film clip from the movie, Hook. See how the little boys search carefully for the Peter Pan they once knew — the spark of innocence and joy. (Be like little children). We are to search for Christ in others the same way the little boys search for Peter Pan in Robin Williams’ character, Peter. (May he rest in peace in the arms of the Lord Jesus!)

https://youtu.be/EMIAIJg9Ftg

Novena to Blessed Solanus Casey – Day 3

“But the seed sown on rich soil is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.” (Mt 13:23).

Unity.  It is a mark of the Church. The seeds of the Word of God sown in unity will bear the fruits of peace and joy.  Scripture tells us “…in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26c).  Antioch was the birthplace of the the first Gentile Christian community, and began when Christians were scattered from Jerusalem because of persecution.  The home of the Syriac Maronite Church of Antioch, born from the seed of the Antiochian Church, is Lebanon. One of her great saints is St. Sharbel Makhluf.  St. Sharbel is known for uniting Christians and Muslims in prayer and in favors granted through his intercession. He is therefore a great intercessor, along with Blessed Solanus, in times of disunity and persecution.

There are two great virtues in the life of Blessed Solanus that are essential for the grace of unity: humility and docility to the Holy Spirit.  Insisting that we must praise God “in all His designs,” he responded to major disappointments in life with gratitude, always thanking God ahead of time for prayers answered.  He lived every moment of his priesthood with confidence in God’s gracious Providence.  Through this docility he was able to comfort the afflicted through prophetic words, and multitudes of souls received the graces of conversion of heart and miraculous healings through his intercessory prayer.  He literally opened the door to all and sowed the seeds of God’s mercy, bearing fruit “a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold.”

Today let us pray for the Lord to sow the seeds of conversion into the hearts of all His people, bearing the fruits of unity, peace, and joy.

Prayer for the Canonization of Father Solanus Casey

O God, I adore You.  I give myself to You.

May I be the person You want me to be,

and may Your will be done in my life today.

I thank You for the gifts You gave Father Solanus.

If it is Your will, bless us with the Canonization of

Father Solanus so that others may imitate

and carry on his love for all the poor and suffering of our world.

As he joyfully accepted Your divine plans,

I ask You, according to Your will,

to hear my prayer for…(your intention)

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

“Blessed be God in all His designs.”